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January 18, 2021

No local changes in votes following first day of recount for state’s chief justice race

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Elections on Thursday spent several hours recounting ballots for the N.C. Supreme Court chief justice race, which ultimately resulted in no deviation from the original election day, absentee by mail and provisional ballots canvassed last week.

After canvassing the election last week, results in Rowan County showed Republican challenger Paul Newby carried 47,453 of the votes, or 66.09%, while incumbent Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, received 24,346 votes, or 33.91%. Across the state, Newby leads Beasley by only 409 votes, which prompted her to officially request a recount from the state Board of Elections on Tuesday.

Final results in Rowan County showed 73,662 ballots had been cast for the general election. That includes election day voting, early voting, absentee by mail ballots and provisional ballots.

Only the Supreme Court contest is eligible for a statewide recount, according to state Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon. He also said the recounting process will take several days for some counties, but all counties must complete the recount by Nov. 25.

The recount in Rowan County began at 1 p.m. at the county board of elections office, located at 1935 Jake Alexander Blvd. W., with Election Day ballots first up for the recount. Hours later, a total of 15,620 ballots had been recounted, which was the same amount canvassed last week, according to Rowan County Board of Elections Director Brenda McCubbins.

State board of elections’ guidance states that recount groups are composed of two-person, bipartisan counting teams for each tabulator. Those groups include one tabulator attendant who feeds the ballots into the machine and one tabulator observer who provides the ballots to the tabulator attendant. Additionally, one person is designated to manage the distribution of the voted ballots, and extra people are recommended in case of emergencies.

McCubbins said the number of people actively participating in the recount on Thursday varied at times, but hovered around a dozen people total. The State Board of Elections provided county boards with guidance on allowing breaks for those participating in the recount.

Next, the recount moved to absentee by mail ballots. Following the county’s canvass last week, 10,258 absentee by mail ballots had been accepted, and Thursday’s recount didn’t change from that total.

Additionally, a recount of provisional ballots showed no change from the 175 accepted last week.

The board began counting one-stop votes Thursday night and will continue when they reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board voted there was no probable cause to hold a formal hearing regarding Beasley’s election protest. Since Tuesday, Beasley filed election protests in at least 26 counties. Protests are filed if the results of the election are questioned due to a problem in the counting of all successfully cast ballots.

If any of those county boards of elections agree that Beasley’s protest, or any protest filed from other citizens, could demonstrate the possibility of a mistake, it then moves to a protest hearing.

Beasley and her campaign team requested the recount to “ensure over 2,000 absentee and provisional ballots that were wrongfully rejected are included in the final tally.”

“The race for chief justice will not be over until every single vote has been counted,” said Beasley in a statement on Tuesday. “This race is far from decided, and we look forward to ensuring the counting process continues so that every voice is heard.”

And while Newby hasn’t published a public statement regarding the recount, North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said Beasley’s attempt to bypass county boards and appeal for a recount directly from the state board is “a blatant attempt to change the outcome of this election by rigging the vote-counting process.”

“We know that Justice Newby secured the majority of votes upon completion of the county canvass, and we know that the recount will confirm his victory,” Whatley said in a statement. “If all legal votes are counted, Newby wins. The only way Beasley would be able to win this election is if she has the Democrat State Board count only disqualified Democrat votes while not including disqualified Republican votes, which would clearly violate both the U.S and N.C. constitutions.”

In a statement, Gannon also noted this is the first statewide recount since the 2016 state auditor’s race, which confirmed the results in that contest. In that race, Republican Chuck Stuber trailed current state auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, by about 6,000 votes before the recount. After the recount, Wood won by about 6,050 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.

Additionally, Gannon said this recount is not considered a hand-to-eye recount. State law allows Beasley to demand a hand-to-eye recount in a sample of precincts if the current recount doesn’t reverse the results. If the recount did reverse the results, Newby would have the same right to ask for a hand-to-eye recount in a sample of precincts. The sample would be all ballots in 3% of the precincts and early voting sites in that county, chosen at random.

Variances in the count can result if tabulators catch a partial or stray mark on the ballot. Additionally, high-speed tabulators used to expedite the counties’ recounts may result in slight variances from the results from the smaller precinct tabulators that first counted the ballots.

“We cannot express enough gratitude for the hard work of our county boards of elections, who continue to ensure accurate and fair results in this election,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, in a statement. “Recounts are an important part of the elections process that help guarantee voters’ wishes are realized in the closest of contests.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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